Healthy Living in the North

Milk and young children: what you need to know

A child with a cup of milk.In a recent post, I explored how milk and fortified soy beverages fit into the new food guide. Did you know that Canada’s food guide is intended for Canadians two years of age and older? Guidance for feeding infants and toddlers is more specific. Today, let’s take a closer look at feeding advice related to milk and young children.

Breastfeeding is recommended to two years and beyond

For as long as children continue to receive breast milk, they don’t need milk from cows (or goats) or other alternatives. Moms can be assured that their own milk is the best choice for their child, for as long as they and their child wish to continue breastfeeding.

Formula? When to switch to cow’s milk

Older babies who do not receive breast milk can usually switch from a store-bought infant formula to cow’s milk between 9-12 months of age (if you have questions about infant formula, speak with your healthcare provider).

Introducing animal milk

Do you want to offer your child cow’s or goat’s milk? Consider these tips:

  • Wait until your baby is 9-12 months of age and eating iron-rich foods
  • Choose a pasteurized, full-fat (homogenized or 3.25% M.F.) milk that is not flavoured or sweetened. Goat’s milk should be fortified with vitamin D.
  • Offer milk in an open cup, at meal or snack times.

Beverages to avoid for children less than two years old

Lower fat milks (i.e. 2%, 1%, and skim milk) are too low in fat and calories for young children. Plant-based beverages, such as soy, almond, rice, coconut, and hemp drinks, are also low in calories and other important nutrients. The Canadian Pediatric Society and Dietitians of Canada released a statement advising parents against providing these drinks to young children.

Fortified soy beverages are an option for older children

For children two years and older, fortified soy beverage is the only plant-based drink that is nutritious enough to be an alternative to milk. If your child doesn’t drink milk, consider offering about two cups per day of an unsweetened, fortified soy beverage.

Be cautious with other plant-based beverages

Beverages made from rice, almond, coconut, oat, hemp, cashew, etc. are low in protein and many other nutrients, though some store-bought products have vitamins and minerals added into them. If you choose to provide these drinks to children two years and older, make sure that they are eating a variety of nutritious foods and are growing well. Also, choose products that are unsweetened and fortified.

The bottom line

That’s a lot of nitty-gritty details about milk and young children! The table below organizes information by age group.

Age Recommendations
0-9 months · Breastfeed your baby.

· If you do not exclusively provide breast milk to your baby, offer a store-bought infant formula.

9-24 months · Continue to breastfeed your toddler.

· At 9-12 months of age, non-breastfed toddlers can transition from formula to pasteurized whole cow’s milk (3.25% M.F.) if they are regularly eating iron-rich solid foods. Offer two cups per day (no more than three cups). Full fat goat’s milk fortified with vitamin D is also an option.

· Vegetarian babies who drink formula, who will not be receiving cow or goat’s milk, should continue to receive a follow-up soy formula until 24 months of age.

2+ years · Continue to breastfeed for as long as you and your child wish.

· Children that no longer breastfeed or who don’t breastfeed very often can be offered pasteurized cow’s milk (whole, 2%, 1% or skim) or goat’s milk (fortified with vitamin D). Offer two cups per day (no more than three cups).

· Fortified soy beverages (unsweetened) also become an option at this age.

 

A dietitian can help you find ways to support your child’s nutritional needs.

  • There are dietitians in various communities across Northern Health. A referral may be required. Talk to your health care provider to learn more.
  • BC residents can also access Dietitian Services at HealthLink BC, by calling 8-1-1 (or 604-215-8110 in some areas) and asking to speak with a dietitian.
Lise Luppens

About Lise Luppens

Lise is a registered dietitian with Northern Health's regional Population Health team, where her work focuses on nutrition in the early years. She is passionate about supporting children's innate eating capabilities and the development of lifelong eating competence. Her passion for food extends beyond her work, and her young family enjoys cooking, local foods, and lazy gardening. In her free time, you might also find her exploring beautiful northwest BC by foot, ski, kayak or kite.

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IMAGINE grant: Discover Daycare

The outdoor play equipment and safety surface at the Discovery Childcare Centre.

It’s no secret that active outdoor play is important for children. In a recent paper on the benefits of outdoor active play, the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario and their partners state that kids who are outside move more and sit less, which contributes to a wide variety of health benefits.

The importance of outdoor play was clear to the Discovery Childcare Centre in Prince Rupert, but they just didn’t have the equipment to support that active play outdoors. And so, when the Board of Directors for the centre identified a new playground as a priority, they turned to the IMAGINE Community Grants program to help make the vision a reality.

More of the outdoor play equipment at the Discovery Childcare Centre.

Through years of focused effort, the daycare fundraised almost $40,000 to put toward the purchase and installation of new playground equipment for the 32 kids in their care. Their efforts took dedication and commitment, and in fall 2017 they were very close to achieving their goal!

However, one key piece remained: site preparation, including the purchase and installation of Playfall Tile, a rubberized safety surface manufactured from recycled tires that would cushion the inevitable falls of the hundreds of children who would enjoy the equipment over the years.  The quote for this work came in at roughly $5,000, and so the Board approved the submission of an application for an IMAGINE grant. The application was approved in spring 2018 and work began in June.

After its completion in August 2018, the new playground was an immediate hit with the kids attending the centre. Having a safe place to play outside, and the right equipment for that play, made a big difference for everyone. The centre has already observed that there is room for more growth in the future, with a key focus being the development of a garden area near the playground that will let kids learn about planting, growing, and eating fresh food. IMAGINE is proud to have contributed to this amazing project, and look forward to hearing about the centre’s successes in the future!

The IMAGINE Grant spring cycle is now accepting applications! Get yours in today!

Andrew Steele

About Andrew Steele

Andrew Steele is the Coordinator of Community Funding Programs for Northern Health. He is passionate about community development, and believes that healthy communities are the result of many people working together toward common goals. Outside work, Andrew loves mountain biking, teaching Ride classes at The Movement, and enjoying art, culture and food with friends and family.

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Your flu shot: be strong like Tom

Thomas showing his muscles.
Be strong like Thomas: get your flu shot.

Did you know, this year’s flu shot is working better than past years? Official estimates have the flu shot hovering around 70% effectiveness, far better than recent years.

So, what’s your hesitation? Not enough time? Hate getting a needle? Not sure where to get one? If you’ve used any of these an excuse to avoid the flu shot, I’d like to introduce you to Thomas.

Thomas is 7, he has a dog named Kodiak, he does judo, and he wants to ­be an electrician when he gets a little older.

Besides being a pretty cool kid, Thomas knows the flu shot is the best way to protect himself from the flu. What he didn’t know, but he learned this year, is that it also helps protect everybody else! Kids like him, babies, the elderly, and those with vulnerable immune systems are all impacted by him getting the shot!

Thomas and a local news crew.
“Just my arm was a little bit sore but that was ok because I got to be on the news.”

Here’s what he had to say about the experience:

“I was a little nervous because I was afraid it would hurt a lot. But it didn’t hurt until after, and just my arm was a little bit sore but that was okay because I got to be on the news.”

Thomas is one tough kid!

Looking to be like Tom and get the shot? Find a flu clinic in no time on the Immunize BC website.

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IMAGINE Grant: Trail Blazers

Riding a bike is one of those experiences that most people associate with being a kid, but the truth is many kids don’t get the chance to have that experience. The cost of buying a bike is a major barrier for some families, and additional costs like helmets and maintenance can put the activity out of reach. Many students at Westwood Elementary School in Prince George are among those not fortunate enough to own a bike, and this motivated a teacher, Tanja Wilson, to apply for an IMAGINE Community Grant to start the Trail Blazers program at the school.

Westwood school kids on bikes.

“I saw the need for some of our youth to be able to enjoy bike riding, and I wanted to incorporate it into an after school program so that everyone could join,” says Wilson. “I wanted to help kids learn not only how to ride a bike, but also safety rules and basic bike fixes such as how to put a chain back on, and how to lower a seat.” 

With funding in place, Tanja first set out to purchase the equipment: 25 bikes, 25 helmets, and 25 sets of pads, in sizes to accommodate students of all ages. She then arranged lessons about bike safety and maintenance for the kids, including hand signals, crossing roads, and how to replace a broken chain. Once this was completed, it was ride time.

“It was FANTASTIC!! Not only did the students enjoy it, their parents did as well.”

The program ran twice a week for primary students and twice for intermediates. The route between Westwood Elementary and nearby Ginters Park quickly became a fan favourite. At the park, the kids explored trails and were able to enjoy a healthy snack before riding back to school!

The program was a hit, seeing huge growth in participation over time and giving many students the opportunity to engage in fun, healthy, and safe physical activity with their friends.

All kids should have the chance to play, but sometimes barriers they can’t control get in the way. By supporting projects like Trail Blazers, the IMAGINE Community Grants program helps break these barriers down, one ride at a time. The Spring 2019 IMAGINE intake opens to applications on March 1, 2019, with applications due March 31. For more information, visit the IMAGINE Community Grants web page.

Andrew Steele

About Andrew Steele

Andrew Steele is the Coordinator of Community Funding Programs for Northern Health. He is passionate about community development, and believes that healthy communities are the result of many people working together toward common goals. Outside work, Andrew loves mountain biking, teaching Ride classes at The Movement, and enjoying art, culture and food with friends and family.

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Thermometers help keep kids out of Dease Lake emergency room

Two staff holding thermometers.
L-R: Amy Bolton, Dease Lake Pregnancy Outreach Coordinator and Anna Fritch, Northern Health Nurse.

When someone goes to the emergency room with a cold or a mild fever, they often end up using some of the time and care needed for people with more urgent health concerns.

Anna Fritch, a nurse in Dease Lake, noticed this trend and decided to do something about it. Her goal was to cut down on the number of unnecessary emergency room visits.

She realized that many people who come to the emergency room don’t have basic health information on how to treat minor illnesses at home.

“I thought, ‘What do I know about taking care of a cold?’ I learned what to do from my mother as a child and how she self-treated us at home,” Anna says.

She realized one problem is that people don’t know where to get health information. Another problem is that people call emergency saying that their child has a fever, but when asked what their temperature is, parents respond that they don’t own a thermometer.

Anna works closely with the pregnancy outreach coordinator in Dease Lake, Amy Bolton. They meet a few times a month to collaborate and share information. When Anna mentioned the issues to Amy, Amy was immediately on board, offering to use some of her budget to buy thermometers.

Anna and Amy now wanted to work out how to give out the thermometers, but also educate people at the same time. They tried to do monthly pre-natal education sessions, but even though Dease Lake is a small town, the turnout wasn’t great.

The next step was to share the information with Dease Lake residents. At a community health fair, Anna provided thermometers, HealthLink BC info on how to take temperatures (children and adults), Northern Health info on treating a child’s fever at home, and a pamphlet from BC Children’s Hospital.

Now, Anna has the same information in her office, along with the thermometers. When a family or an elder comes to the emergency room, she takes the opportunity to educate them about fevers and gives them a thermometer. She teaches them what a fever represents, when to be worried about it, and what to do.

This education “makes a fever less frightening and puts a bit more agency into the hands of families,” says Anna. “People tend to think the moment they’re unwell, there’s nothing they can do.”

“It’s a willingness to partner and support people, but it’s also ‘here’s the tool you need and how to use it.’ These are the situations in which you can help yourself,” says Anna.

Anna says that now, when people call the emergency room to say they’re coming in with a feverish child, they can attach a number to their concern because they’re using a thermometer.

“There’s a difference between hot to the touch and clinically having a fever,” Anna says. “When I did the teachings, I tried to emphasize that ‘I’m giving you the thermometer because when you call me, I want us to be talking about the same thing.’”

Anna and her nursing colleagues are still working on increasing people’s confidence to care for family members themselves. But now, they can objectively measure temperature, which gives Anna and the other nursing staff a talking point to use when they call or come into emergency.

This is a great example of how a simple tool and a little education can help reduce emergency room visits.

Bailee Denicola

About Bailee Denicola

Bailee is a communications advisor in the Primary Care Department and was born and raised in Prince George. She graduated from UNBC with an anthropology degree and loves exploring cultures and learning about people. When not at work, Bailee can be found hanging out with her dogs, building her house with her husband, or travelling the world.

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Remembering the importance of immunizations

(Editor’s note: This article first appeared in Northern Health’s Healthier You – Summer 2018 edition on Healthy Schools. Read the full issue here.)

A dad holding his smiling daughter.

Did you know that in this past century, in Canada, more lives have been saved due to immunizations than any other public health initiative? Even with this amazing fact, many people remain under- or un-immunized, and a recent B.C. incident highlights the risks posed by vaccine preventable diseases (VPD). The Okanagan experienced a meningitis outbreak last fall, with several people becoming ill. Sadly, there was one case where meningococcal disease contributed to death.

Vaccines work

Immunizations, also known as vaccinations, help to protect you from getting a VPD. When you get vaccinated, you also help to protect others by interfering with a germ’s ability to spread (this effect is called herd or community immunity). It’s much safer to get vaccinated than to catch an infectious disease.

Consider what happens in the absence of vaccinations. Unvaccinated children contract vaccine preventable illnesses and diseases at higher rates than vaccinated children. Varicella (chicken pox) rates can be up to nine times higher, measles up to 35 times higher, and pertussis (whooping cough) up to between six and 28 times higher! Further, VPDs are more severe in infants and younger children. Delayed immunizations also increase the duration that a child is vulnerable to VPDs.

Northern Health is working to improve vaccination rates

Northern Health manages, allocates, and distributes $6 million dollars’ worth of publicly funded vaccine each year within the northern region, ensuring that vaccines are available to those who need them, when they need them. Northern Health is also conducting a quality improvement study to determine if an automated telephone message is a feasible and useful reminder for parents to bring their children in for vaccinations.

In other efforts, Northern Health is embarking on a childhood immunization strategy to ensure that all two-year-olds are fully caught up. This is accomplished by closely monitoring vaccination rates, increasing the promotion of immunizations, and improving access to vaccination services. Northern Health intends to increase the average immunization rate of 70%, to 75% next year, 85% by 2021, and 90% by 2023.

What you can do

It’s really simple: get vaccinated. Influenza season is here and most pharmacies and public health facilities offer flu shots. Look for locations via ImmunizeBC’s Flu Clinic locator website.

Other vaccines you might need as an adult depend not only on your age, lifestyle, overall health, pregnancy status, and travel plans, but also on those you have close contact with (think of infants under six months of age, the elderly, as well as people with depressed immune systems). What vaccines you had as a child is also a consideration. Talk with your health care provider about which vaccines you need. Finally, get your children vaccinated according to BC’s recommended vaccination schedule.

More information about immunizations

Please refer to the following excellent Canadian-based web resources:

Mike Gagel

About Mike Gagel

Hailing from Vancouver, Mike and his family moved to Prince George in the summer of 2013. Mike joined Northern Health in March 2017 and works as the Regional Manager for Communicable Disease. Mike has worked in healthcare for twenty years in various roles such as Oncology Nurse (BC Cancer), Clinical Research Nurse (UBC Dermatology), Regional Manager (Vancouver Coastal), and consultant Web Officer (PHSA). He also worked as a technology director with the BC School Trustees Association before joining Northern Health. Outside work, Mike is a volunteer with Scouts Canada, and as a board member with both the Prince George Public Library and the BC Library Trustees Association.

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Social and emotional well-being at school: The Bulkey Valley School District supports mental wellness in the classroom

(Editor’s note: This article first appeared in Northern Health’s Healthier You – Summer 2018 edition on Healthy Schools. Read the full issue here.)
Co-authored by Stacie Weich, regional lead for mental wellness & prevention of substance harms, and Taylar Endean, past regional nursing lead for healthy schools.

Children interacting at school.

Social and emotional health in youth is associated with higher academic performance, positive mental health experiences, and better life outcomes. Everyone benefits when we incorporate mental health promotion, prevention, and early identification into schools! Collaborative, sustainable, and informed work in this area will help everyone prioritize wellness in every classroom.

B.C. is making strides towards enhancing the curriculum to reflect and grow social and emotional health, and has introduced a new program that includes social and emotional core competencies. The Bulkley Valley (School District 54) has found an excellent and innovative way to meet that goal: they have hired a Social Emotional Helping Teacher (SEHT).

This teacher driven support begins with a teacher reaching out to the SEHT asking for help. The SEHT meets with the classroom teacher for a planning session on embedding well-being into the curriculum, rather than individual, one-off lessons. They work with teachers and students in collaboration, planning and implementation of the new social emotional curriculum requirements into the classroom. This is done is various ways and is driven by the individual classroom. The SEHT assists in incorporating personal and social responsibility into everyday school activities in different subjects such as Language Arts, Science, Music, Art classes and fields trips. This is done through various methods such as storytelling, identifying personal heroes, bringing music and crafts to seniors homes, caring for the environment, personalized drawings/colouring to identify self-awareness, stressors and stress management.

The WellAhead graphic.

 The SEHT attends 3-4 sessions with the teacher and co-teaches with them, building their capacity, confidence, and skills in these topics!

This resource offers a huge support to the teachers and school staff, and encompasses the Comprehensive School Health Framework. Due to increasing demand, this program has grown from a two to four day per week position!

Moving forward, the Bulkley Valley District and Northern Health have teamed up to engage in a coaching grant opportunity secured through the WellAhead – McConnell Foundation. WellAhead is a national initiative focused on integrating social and emotional well-being into young people’s education for long term change. The McConnell Foundation is a private Canadian foundation that develops and applies innovative approaches to social, cultural, economic, and environmental challenges. Together, these programs connect health and education with expertise and tools that help build plans to enhance the wellness in our region. Granting opportunities can be found on the McConnell Foundation website.

What is your school doing to support social and emotional well-being for the students, teachers and staff? Mental health is truly everyone’s business, so take some time to think about how your school environment is promoting these kinds of wellness. After all, we’re all responsible for ensuring that school is a safe, fun, and healthy environment for all.

Stacie Weich

About Stacie Weich

Stacie Weich is the Regional Mental Wellness and Prevention of Substance Harms Lead for Northern Health’s Population Health team. A passion for people and wellness has driven her to pursue a career in mental health and substance use. The first 10 years of her career were spent at a non-profit in Quesnel. Shen then moved to Prince George to join Northern Health in 2008. Stacie has fulfilled many roles under the mental health and substance use umbrella since then (EPI, ED, NYTC, COAST, AADP, YCOS). In her off time Stacie enjoys spending time with her husband, two daughters, and two dogs, and other family and friends in beautiful northern BC!

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Breastfeeding-friendly spaces: Make breastfeeding your business

Breastfeeding friendly spaces decal stating, "we welcome you to breastfeed any time, anywhere."Protecting, promoting, and supporting breastfeeding takes an entire community, big and small. That’s why Northern Health is happy to support a provincial-wide initiative to encourage breastfeeding-friendly spaces across the north.

The Breastfeeding-Friendly Spaces program has created a toolkit to help businesses and organizations create a welcoming, breastfeeding-friendly space for all families. The toolkit includes:

  • A window decal, featuring the universal breastfeeding symbol, to be prominently displayed in front windows. Displaying this decal shows your commitment to support breastfeeding.
  • A companion tip sheet that offers information about how employers and staff can support breastfeeding families.

The importance of breastfeeding

Did you know that a woman’s right to breastfeed is protected by law in BC? As per BC’s Ministry of Justice:

  • Nursing mothers have the right to breastfeed their children in a public area.
  • It’s discriminatory to ask a mother to cover up or breastfeed somewhere else.

While these facts are not new, it may not be common knowledge. Northern Health is committed to supporting breastfeeding-friendly spaces across northern BC. We encourage all businesses and organizations to do their part to contribute to a positive community that recognizes the importance of breastfeeding!

Breastfeeding friendly spaces decal on the window of the library entrance.

Ignacio Albarracin, Public Service Manager for the Prince George Public Library, stands at the library’s entrance with the new provincial Breastfeeding-Friendly Spaces decal displayed.

A closer look

The Prince George Public Library is one in a growing list of northern BC organizations that is proud to declare their facility to be a breastfeeding-friendly space.

“The public library is a welcoming space, it’s an inclusive space, and serving households with children is one of our core services,” says Ignacio Albarracin, the library’s Public Service Manager, about why they have put up the decal. “We understand that it’s the law, that women have a right to breastfeed anywhere, and this is also consistent with our values to make this a family-friendly space. We want mothers to feel that it’s safe and appropriate to bring their children here. We want them to feel that they’re not going to be bothered or judged if they breastfeed their children here.”

This breastfeeding-friendly spaces decal and tip sheet were created in partnership with Perinatal Services BC, all BC health authorities, the Ministry of Health, and the BC Baby Friendly Network. The new program will be replacing Northern Health’s existing “Growing for Gold” program, which was developed for the 2015 Canada Winter Games and featured a window decal stating, “Naturally, you can breastfeed here.” We appreciate the northern businesses and organizations who have supported this initiative and they can expect a new toolkit in the mail very soon.

When you order a decal, your business/facility will be added to the list of breastfeeding-friendly spaces on the Northern Health website. Help us send this important message: “We welcome you to breastfeed any time, anywhere,” by requesting your decal now!

Want to do more? Consider displaying these posters as well:

Jessica Quinn

About Jessica Quinn

Jessica Quinn is the regional manager of digital communications and public engagement for Northern Health, where she is actively involved in promoting the great work of NH staff to encourage healthy, well and active lifestyles. She manages NH's content channels, including social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc). When she's not working, Jessica stays active by exploring the beautiful outdoors around Prince George via kayak, hiking boots, or snowshoes, and she has recently completed her master's degree in professional communications from Royal Roads University, with a focus on the use of social media in health care.
(NH Blog Admin)

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Breastfeeding: a cultural approach can make all the difference

In 1977, Buffy Sainte-Marie, a Plains Cree woman from the Piapot reserve, appeared on Sesame Street explaining breastfeeding to Big Bird as she breastfed her son, Dakota “Cody” Starblanket Wolfchild. This was the first time breastfeeding had been shown on a major television station. At the time, this was quite radical. Mothers had been taught since the early 1900s that they should rely on experts for advice and they were recommending formula. In 1977, to push back against “experts” to promote breastfeeding was groundbreaking.

Creating cultural connection through breastfeeding
Since then, we’ve learnt a lot about about the importance of culture in the health and well-being of Indigenous peoples in Canada, and we’re beginning to understand the role breastfeeding plays in connecting to culture. Breastfeeding creates a strong physical bond between mothers and babies that carries the cultural values and beliefs of the mother to the child, connecting the child to the past and future. Research shows that Indigenous moms who have strong cultural and spiritual resources to turn to, take up and keep up breastfeeding, at rates better than the overall population of nursing mothers. For example, Rhodes (2008) found Indigenous women most connected to traditional ways were sixteen times more likely to breastfeed.

The valuable contributions culture can bring to breastfeeding and health has been weakened by colonization. Widespread disruption of home, family and cultural connections has harmed generations of Indigenous people in Canada through Residential Schools, Indian Hospitals, and other high level policies.The widespread disruption caused by colonization meant the loss of mothers, aunties, and grandmothers who were crucial to the success of young mothers’ breastfeeding.

Breastfeeding & child health
Not breastfeeding has a high price.The report on child health released by Northern Health’s Chief Medical Health officer last year, showed rates of early childhood dental caries/cavities (ECC) in northern BC five times the provincial average, and children living in northern regions undergo surgery for dental issues at three times the provincial average. The risk for early childhood caries is greater in some Indigenous communites with higher rates of bottle feeding and, in these cases, a cultural approach to breastfeeding is an effective protective factor against ECC.(See: Cidro et al. Breast feeding practices as cultural interventions for early childhood caries in Cree communities, 2015.)

Creating healthy cultural practice
Supporting Indigenous mothers will require extra care from health care providers. Understanding the importance of culture in supporting breastfeeding can reduce the specific and systemic barriers that exist for Indigenous mothers. Many mothers are hungry for the connection between themselves, their children, and their culture. Many loved ones and community members may also want to understand and reclaim their roles in supporting breastfeeding as a cultural practice.

You could be an important bridge for reclaiming these connections. Questions to ask a breastfeeding mother could include:

  • Would you like an Elder or trusted loved one to be part of the visit?
  • Are there any cultural and traditional practices that would be helpful for you?
  • Is there anything special that would help you in breastfeeding?

Breastfeeding, supported as a healthy cultural practice, promises much for improving and restoring health and well-being within Indigenous communities. Providing culturally safe services is a call to action: what can we do to promote breastfeeding in a culturally safe way for the Indigenous mothers in our care? What is it you can do?

Overall,  being aware of the underlying impacts of past negative experiences and how they’ve influenced Indigenous people’s encounters with the health care system is most important. If you can do this, you will send the message that you know about and are ready to respect the cultural bonds of breastfeeding.

We know that discussion of sensitive topics like this may cause distress. Please ensure you or the people you are working with have access to the supports you need.

Want to learn more? Check out:

 

Citations:

  • Rhodes et al. American Indian Breastfeeding Attitudes and Practices in Minnesota Maternal and Child Health Journal July 2008, Volume 12, Supplement 1, pp 46–54
  • Buffy Sainte-Marie started CradleBoard a site to improve curriculum. You can access this interactive web site at http://www.cradleboard.org/2000/mission.html though not all links work.
  • Cidrio, et al. feeding practices as cultural interventions for early childhood caries in Cree communities https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4409764/

Theresa Healy

About Theresa Healy

Theresa is the regional manager for healthy community development with Northern Health’s population health team and is passionate about the capacity of individuals, families and communities across northern B.C. to be partners in health and wellness. As part of her own health and wellness plan, she has taken up running and, more recently, weight lifting. She is also a “new-bee” bee-keeper and a devoted new grandmother. Theresa is an avid historian, writer and researcher who also holds an adjunct appointment at UNBC that allows her to pursue her other passionate love - teaching.

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Feeding our babies: at what age can we start offering solid foods?

The question

As a mom, I know it can be hard to get straight answers to parenting questions. Websites and discussion boards offer so many conflicting opinions (right?). Even professional recommendations sometime vary. This can be confusing… and frustrating!

baby eating solid foods in high chair

At six months, my daughter let us know she was ready for solids. Here she is eating little bits of soft stew meat as her first food!

As a dietitian, I also know people have a LOT of questions about feeding their babies. Here’s an important one: “When is the ‘right’ time to start offering solid food?”

The recommendation

Northern Health supports the following recommendations from World Health Organization, Health Canada, Canadian Pediatric Society, Dietitians of Canada, Breastfeeding Committee for Canada, and Perinatal Services BC:

  • Infants are exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life
  • With continued breastfeeding, complementary solid foods and other fluids are introduced around the age of six months of life
  • Continued breastfeeding is recommended for up to two years and beyond

Well, now that’s a mouthful! Let’s simplify that:

“Breastmilk is the only food a baby needs for the first six months. After that, keep breastfeeding and offer nutritious foods, too.”

The details

Since there are some variations in when babies are ready to eat food, we see the language of starting foods at about six months of age. Some babies will be ready for food a few weeks earlier than six months, some a few weeks later. Your baby will give you signs, not just that they are interested in food, but also that they are developmentally ready. Your baby may be ready for solids if they can:

  • Sit up, unsupported
  • Open their mouth for food
  • Turn their head when they are full

Our daughter let us know when she was ready, which, for her, was just before six months (I have proud mama pictures of her eating little bits of soft stew meat as her first food. So cute!).

More questions

“Don’t some people say, ‘Food before one is just for fun’?”

Red flag! This phrase is concerning because we know how important food is for babies, starting at about six months. One big reason is the increased need for iron at this age. Other reasons include involving babies in family meals and supporting the development of their eating and food acceptance skills.

“What about children at risk for food allergies?”

You may have seen some media stories about the prevention of peanut allergy, where “four-to-six months” is sometimes mentioned. To clarify, the majority of families (98-99%) can introduce peanuts, at home, when baby is about six months old (for more information about safely introducing peanuts and other common food allergens, see Reducing Risk of Food Allergy in your Baby). For a baby with egg allergy or severe eczema (this is not common), their doctor can help make an individualized plan that may involve testing for peanut allergy before introducing peanut-containing foods.

Want up-to-date information on first foods for babies? Check out the following resources:

Lise Luppens

About Lise Luppens

Lise is a registered dietitian with Northern Health's regional Population Health team, where her work focuses on nutrition in the early years. She is passionate about supporting children's innate eating capabilities and the development of lifelong eating competence. Her passion for food extends beyond her work, and her young family enjoys cooking, local foods, and lazy gardening. In her free time, you might also find her exploring beautiful northwest BC by foot, ski, kayak or kite.

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